Insomnia Hurts Heart


Waking every three hours, tossing and turning, and being chronically tired are more common than most people think. In fact, more than one-third of American adults do not get enough sleep. Their insomnia not only hurts their productivity,  it also hurts their heart and can increase their risk of stroke, particularly for young adults.

A new study from Taiwan shows that insomnia raises the likelihood of being hospitalized due to stroke by 54 percent. That risk grew exponentially for people ages 18 to 34, who were eight times more likely to have a stroke than peers who got adequate sleep.

A lot of attention is paid to high blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity as risk factors, but not having a good sleep routine can harm people, especially at a young age, according to Dr. Demetrius Lopes, who is director of the Interventional Cerebrovascular Center at Chicago’s Rush University and an American Heart Association spokesman.

The new Taiwan study, published in the May issue of Stroke, compared health records of over 21,000 people with insomnia and 64,000 without insomnia who were randomly selected. None had previously been diagnosed with sleep apnea or stroke. The researchers found that over four years, 583 insomniacs and 962 with normal sleep patterns were admitted to a hospital for stroke. The researchers concluded, after accounting for other factors, that those with insomnia had an increased stroke risk when compared with those who slept well.

Insomnia can be either acute (short-term) or chronic. Acute insomnia results from stress over work, family issues, money, or something traumatic. Chronic insomnia is defined as lasting a month or longer, according to the National Institutes of Health. Many cases of chronic insomnia are “secondary,” meaning caused by medication or another health condition, such as depression, respiratory problems, or gastrointestinal issues.

The researchers also found that the level of insomnia patients encounter has a direct bearing on their risk of stroke and how much it hurts their heart. Those who persistently had insomnia had a higher stroke risk than those who only intermittently suffered from insomnia. Those whose insomnia abated during the study were at an even higher risk level.

While the study showed a connection between insomnia and higher stroke risk, it did not show a direct cause-and-effect. Insomniacs tend to suffer from other factors known to increase stroke risk, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. It is still not clear if the insomnia increased the other factors or an unhealthy lifestyle that led to the other risk factors caused the insomnia.

Each probably contributes to the other, according to Dr. Mark Urman, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. He notes that repeatedly not getting enough sleep can contribute to other risk factors, which in turn leads to more insomnia. Regular, adequate sleep is important to a person’s health. Sleep helps the body relax and regulates blood pressure, hormone levels, and stress.

One result from the study is that young adults are not invincible. Insomnia hurts the heart for people at all ages. Repeated all-nighters, whether studying or partying, can leave a toll, putting them at higher risk of having a stroke at a young age.

By Dyanne Weiss

Web MD
National Institutes of Health
CBS News
American Heart Association

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